The Native, Not Native Plant Debate: Is It Valid?

By Debra Knapke

Late fall is my time for contemplation, for this question and so many more. The leaves are down, the garden beds are put-to-bed – as much as I do that anymore. The days are moody with short periods of transcendent blue skies bracketed by gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

I look out into my garden and consider… what delighted me? what did not? what worked? what did not?

My ideas and gardening have changed considerably over the years. From collecting and figuring out where everything could fit to needing to understand how nature works. It isn’t about the quantity, but the quality of plants, plant communities and soil – the foundation of everything.

Purpose – the concept that must underlie all garden creation and maintenance. Why are you doing it? For these times when our climate is changing, our food systems are insecure, and we know that we must support each other and the Earth. My garden’s purpose is to support all life that comes to it, and to supplement our diet. These are my primary gardening intentions.

For the first intention, using native plants is essential. Native plants – those that belong to an ecological niche, have not been introduced by humans and have been here longer than us (I’ll let you determine who “us” is) – native animals, and soil systems have evolved together. At every step of the way, change has been a part of this relationship, so the native plant of 500 years ago may not be the native plant of today, but the relationships remain.

For the second intention, many of us would be hard-pressed to live off the land in Ohio. There are too many of us and we have become accustomed to having luscious tomatoes, spicy basil, and our pick of culinary delights. Fortunately, many of these food plants from other lands also have relationships with their animal counterparts, and often, these relationships work for our native insects and others.

Yes, there is the question of fitness: does a non-native plant offer as good a resource to our animals? I believe the jury is still out on this question. We have studies (Mt. Cuba, Cornell, and other institutions) that show that our native insects prefer our native plants as shown by their visitation rate. But I am waiting for the brilliant researcher who is able to figure out how to ask a bumblebee the question: “Which of these offers the best nutrition for you, false sunflower or Black Adder anise hyssop?”

Bumbles on our native false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) and on Black Adder anise hyssop, a hybrid of our native Agastache foeniculum and European native A. rugosum

So, my title and question: the native, not native plant debate: Is it valid? My answer is yes and no…  It depends on Why You Garden – a topic for another time.

To  help you figure out where you stand in the native/non-native debate, I offer a rating scale by the brilliant J. C. Raulston who looked for plants that performed well in the landscape and who may have introduced plants that are in your garden.

Enjoy!

EXOTIC VS. NATIVE PLANTS PHILOSOPHY SCALE (1-10) 

By J. C. Raulston – 1996

To help understand where others (and you) stand in the very wide spectrum of the horrific and unending native vs. exotic plant “mud-wrestling debate” – the following scale is offered tongue-in-cheek for humor to laugh at ourselves on this admittedly serious issue. Where are YOU in this range??

1-2: Encourage maximum population growth; burn, bulldoze and kill all existing vegetation and build everywhere; plant only those ugly aggressive noxious exotic plants with no redeeming values (e.g. – hybrid tea roses, Leyland cypresses or ‘Bradford’ pears); eat only kiwis, mangos and rice; live in rosewood lumber homes with plastic furniture; demand “Chemplush” (TM) lush iridescent green lawns everywhere and in all seasons.

2-4: Burn, bulldoze and kill most existing vegetation – but save old historic trees slept under by great presidents; maintain cryogenic tissue samples of native flowers germplasm just in case someone ever wants to sample for a pimple cure; eat olives and figs, with one bowl of beans a month; live in a redwood home with a basket woven of local reeds; weed and feed lawn monthly and mow weekly.

4-6: Live life in moderation; plant and enjoy useful plants; protect native habitats; eat everything in sight regardless of origin (Raulston’s Rule); recycle paper, homes, and other products – and use local plantation grown lumber to build; weed & feed lawn annually and mow monthly if it needs it; worry endlessly about everything ’cause you don’t have a final perfect answer to Earth’s problems like everyone else seems to.

6-8: Eliminate aggressive invasive exotic plants; work politically and financially to protect native habitats; urge population control; use low maintenance native plants appropriate to environment and culture; eat beans, corn, blueberries and an occasional cantaloupe in season; live in hand-hewn pine cabin from lumber you grew yourself; use all native oak furniture built from lightening killed trees and enjoy a mahogany rocking chair inherited from your Indonesian great-grandfather; let goats graze whatever grass or other stuff comes up out front – then eat goat (if not vegetarian or animal rights).

8-10: Eliminate all plant species not growing when and where they existed as colonists arrived; remove all physical construction not in use in 1492 and reduce human population levels to that time with appropriate attention to native American ethnic purity; eliminate all travel and exchange of products and/or technology; eat only the foods botanically existing on your specific habitat (no cheating with imported Mexican corn or Maine blueberries) – mushrooms are recommended as they don’t reproduce easily or spread aggressively; live in caves to protect trees from destruction; wear no clothing or use any tools; if there is no tree removal, there is no sun, and therefore no summer grass = no lawn maintenance sweat.

Back-to-School Challenge

Crowd-Sourcing Native Plant Ideas for School Landscape

By Michael Leach

Please put on your thinking caps. We’re looking for plants native to central Ohio that meet several requirements. The goal is a more environmentally friendly and educationally enhanced school landscape.  Yes, we have our native go-tos – I adore oaks, Deb loves royal catchfly, native ferns and spicebush, and Teresa is a fan of coneflowers and Joe Pye weed. But, for this project, we’d love to hear from you.

A new middle school is to be built near my home. Fortunately plans call for preserving a 200-year-old oak tree. Already there’s an orange, plastic mesh fence around this grand tree.

The schools superintendent is open to my making suggestions to the landscape planners for native Ohio plants that may be used on the site. We discussed the possibility of white pines to screen the football field and track. These trees have been used before on school sites. It’s a toehold.

For now there’s little chance of doing more than a few trees and perhaps some shrubs, the typical local school landscape. Low maintenance — primarily mowing — is preferred. So no pollinator strips, recreated prairies or woodland preserves need apply.

Plant parameters are:

Toughness — Have to tolerate full sun, wind, little care and Midwest extremes common in Central Ohio, Zone 6;

Coexistence — Must be able to handle competition from lawn and withstand mowers running over root zones;

Visual appeal — Seasonal interest, such as fall color, a plus, because people are using the school, but no  messy fruits;

Acquisition — Be readily available in 2-inch caliper plants;

Education — While school gardens offer diverse learning opportunities, these tend to flourish only with teachers who are also gardeners. No outdoor classroom is on the horizon at the moment. Ideally trees and shrubs should be those that: had/have a variety of uses for Native Americans and/or European settlers, support a range of wildlife, and have other qualities that make them resources for creative teachers.

Please send your suggestions and comments by August 20. 

Celebrating Ohio Native Plants

By Michael Leach

Today we are helping launch April as Ohio Native Plant Month, with a post about how this became Ohio law.  In a few days, we’ll share an interview with Hope Taft, former Ohio first lady, who not only helped make this happen, but has long been a champion of Ohio native plants and natural areas.

It takes more than trowels and watering cans to make a gardening statement. For April to become Ohio Native Plant Month, ideas, conversations, meetings, legislative hearings, political action, and the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine were part of the mix.

The purpose is to increase public awareness of Ohio’s native plants, and the many benefits they provide to pollinators, Ohio’s economy, and health of Ohio’s environment.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine with Hope Taft (far left) and Ohio Master Gardeners

One of the behind-the-scenes champions is Hope Taft, wife of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and “mother” of the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. It’s the only one in the country featuring a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its principal ecosystems.

The idea for native plant month sprouted around three years ago when she learned Texas planned a native plant week. She said,  “This struck me as a great way to broaden the impact of the Heritage Garden and increase the use of native plants in residential settings.”

However, it stayed in her memory bank because “…. my background told me it would be a lot of work to get the legislature to go along and even more to have a group of like-minded organizations to do it without supporting legislation.”

Eventually she met Kathryn Cochran Wiggam, wife of state Rep. Scott Wiggam of the Ohio House of Reresentatives, and daughter of Ken Cochran, retired director of Secrest Arboretum. She is a member of the Garden Club of Akron, part of the Garden Club of America. Another memory deposited.

Eventually, several memories and meetings resulted in action. Nancy Linz, the Zone X horticulture chair of the Garden Club of America, Nathan Johnson, director of Public Lands for the Ohio Environmental Council, and Hope worked out a plan to get the facts and information needed to present it to the legislature. She said, “The stars were aligning!”

We surveyed every garden club, associated group and green industry member we could think offor the best month, she said. April was chosen because a wide variety of groups across Ohio could participate and nurseries could be stocked with native plants “when the public is most interested in their own yards.”

Rep. Scott Wiggam and Sen. Bob Hackett guided the plan through the legislature. Committee hearings were required. After making many trips to Columbus to testify in the House and Senate committees, getting school children, green industry representatives, and garden club association representatives to testify, and encourage many others to write letters, the bill was signed into law July 18, 2019,” she said.

The group isn’t finished. The trio is working to form a nonprofit organization, develop a website,www.ohionativeplantmonth.org, and encourage use of information there. “Nancy is the driving force behind Ohio Native Plant Month and hopes it will get national traction,” she said.

Recently the group received notice the Montgomery County Commissioners, which includes Dayton, issued a proclamation honoring Ohio Native Pant Month. This is important, Hope said. It puts the local government on records supporter of using native plants. 

Another way to promote Ohio plants, she said, is for local beautification groups to add “use of natives” as a criteria in selecting outstanding gardens. 

While the COVID-19 crisis forced cancellation of native plant events in April, the Ohio Native Plant Month website will list new events, provide updates, give information on invasive plants, and show tallies of Ohio tree plantings to reach the United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign, www.trilliontreecampagin.org, to plant a trillion trees by 2050.

They also will provide information on adding Ohio native plant pollinator gardens to home landscapes and using Ohio natives in existing landscape plantings.

In the Garden: Teresa’s Haven

IMG_6893By Debra Knapke

In between light rain showers Michael and I visited Teresa’s garden. Nestled in a conservation area along the scenic Little Darby Creek, Teresa created a haven for wildlife and for herself and her family. Her design is a continuum: formal elements by the house; semi-formal beds further out, culminating in prairie areas by the road. Her gardens reflect not only the natural areas that were along the Little Darby before humans settled here, but also of the food and cutting gardens that came after.

in garden formal 7-9-15

The Midwest is experiencing a record-setting amount of rain for June and July, so Teresa’s gardens are lush. The long prairie areas that line the road are full of bloom as we move into high summer color.

in garden prairie long view 7-9-15We are greeted at the front door by one of Teresa’s many colorful containers. Her gardens are lovely contrasts of textural foliage punctuated by well-placed blooming plants and artful placements of garden accents.

In the garden begonia container 7-9-15 in garden container vignette 7-9-15

The vegetable-cutting garden is perfectly placed within easy access to Teresa’s workroom. The mass of crocosmia that you see below provided the flowers for a simple arrangement in the kitchen. The garden itself is an interesting interpretation a four-square design. Instead of opting for the traditional, Teresa created a more modern zig-zag design.

We can’t always control where our plants will roam. A volunteer pumpkin has escaped and entwined with butterflyweed. On the other side of the garden, Teresa purposely inter-planted potatoes with asparagus, purple coneflower and kiwi. The sacred Datura (right image; lower left) self-seeds as it will.

in garden escaping pumpkin 7-9-15 in garden intermingling 7-9-15

Onto the prairie – A personal favorite is false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) which has spread along one portion of the prairie area. A close-up of another section reveals the intermingling of other prairie species. The patterns ebb and flow over the years depending on environmental conditions. Because of the rain, there were fewer pollinators present, but I have visited on a sunny day and the prairie was buzzing with a myriad of insects. The goldfinches are already harvesting the purple coneflowers.

in garden prairie vignette 7-9-15 in garden prairie heliopsis 7-9-15

Next stop: visiting Teresa’s woods. Her son Mark installed a zip line and built a small treehouse and has made this part of the yard his own. We decided not to venture into this natural area because the mosquitoes were – quite literally – out for our blood! It was easier to avoid them by staying out in the open, breezy areas.

in garden Marks woods 7-9-15

Just off the woods is the backyard terrace area where texture rules. In the lower area, we visited “the girls”. They often roam with Teresa as she works in the garden. I’m thinking how this might be a good addition to my own garden. Where else do you find an insecticide (insects are one of their favorite foods), a fertilizer, a tractor and a food provider wrapped up in one attractive package?

 

in garden back walkway 7-9-15

in garden the girls 7-9-15

Coming out of the backyard into a semi-formal woodland garden, the rain started again. Time to say goodbye, accept some beautiful eggs, go home and bake.

in garden T and M 7-9-15 resize

Wishing you beautiful moments in a garden…

 

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